Angel Fire, NM 2005 by Doug Reeves
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Nearby Wheeler Peak (shot from parking lot of Angle Fire Resort)
March 21-22, 2005
I love to snow ski. More than that I think I love the visuals of just being there. The mountaintop panoramas. The clear dry air that almost hurts to breathe. The GRANDEUR of all that...vertical Earth. But, truth be told it's been over nine years since I've experienced it. This was way back in B.C. time - before children. Susie and I went to Taos, NM for three days. I wasn't even a pilot back then...man what a difference a decade can make.
Fast forward a few years and I'm sweating away in the garage building Flash. Think September in a hot Texas garage facing straight at the sun - I have a not-so-fond memory of a shaved head and going out in the driveway to pour cold water over it every few minutes. I was in the upside down canoe fuselage stage. What do they say...you have to WANT it real bad <g>. Well, one of the images that got me through those hot Texas summers in the garage banging rivets was the thought that someday I would travel via RV to a place where I could enjoy some snow skiing. The closest snow to Dallas is 446 n.m. away...in Angel Fire, New Mexico.
As it shaped up I thought I had plenty of time this year, but I let things slide and didn't test fly the new engine until late into the ski season. I discovered with a shock that the ski season was to end only a couple of weeks in the future, so I needed to act NOW if I was going to go this year. Several of us made plans to go, but last minute illnesses and family commitments kept half from going. It ended up being Danny King and me....and my plane was down (putting in an updated Rocky Mountain engine monitor). OK, down to one plane. Danny's wife, the lovely Marthajane, was going to go but gave up her seat for me. Have I told you how high up on that pedestal I hold Marthajane?
Danno and I sweated over the 12/24/36/48 and 72hr forecasts looking for a nice big hole that would allow easy passage to KAXX and back. On Monday the 21st we woke to rain, but by 8am it had passed and the ceilings had lifted enough for departure by 9am. The outlook enroute look VFR (and it turned out to be). Ross 'Scorch' Burgess escorted us out of the local area - he was out at the airport putzing around as he is know to do from time to time. His daughter was home visiting from college so he opted out of the trip. Once Ross flew from Dallas, TX to Las Cruces, NM for a hamburger, so neither of us put it past him going out to Angel Fire for a hot dog. The man loves to RViate.
We had a 30kt headwind right on the nose, so even in Danny's speedy 200hp RV-8 it was going to take at least three hours. It did. Danny had extended range tanks installed awhile back, so he has well over four hours of fuel at hand if needed. Stopping for fuel on the way was not an issue - going the distance without a bathroom break is usually the limiting factor in his plane. We both agreed three hours is about the limit per leg.
Other than the 150kt groundspeed the trip was uneventful and typical. Beautiful Doll's heater worked great until the outside air temperature dropped below 30 degrees F. There were some scattered showers around the Amarillo area that we had to skirt, but other than that the trip was uneventful.
Angel Fire airport is just over the 'first big mountain' when flying from Texas. Your exposure to true mountain terrain is limited to about fifteen minutes, and that felt good, as it got more and more rugged looking as we approached the airport. We tuned into the field Unicom and heard a Pilatus talking with someone on the ground about the condition of the runway. They had snow the night before and they were talking about ice and crosswinds. Ice? Crosswind?
Danny has a few thousand hours in the pointed end of a Boeing and probably a hundred of those driving it around on ice, so I couldn't have been more pleased to be in the back of his plane instead of flying PIC in mine. We had two hours of fuel onboard when we lowered into the valley there at the airport and a clear plan of action - complete with plans B and C. Listen to Danny talk about this landing in great detail in RVTalk #10. Look at the pictures below while listening to the audio file. It was a learning experience. As much as it pains me to compliment him, because it can only lead to his head swelling even more, I have to admit it - he is a very skilled aviator. Ughhh! My hands feel dirty just typing that...
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1 - starting to see snow as we approach the high plains
2 - more snow (not looking like Texas anymore)
3 - first glimpse of the airport (can you see it?)
4 - notice the wind sock. 20kt crosswind and landing on ice. You want experience here....
5 - safe on the ground and the resort in the background
12 noon. We are down on the ground and it is COLD. Calls to the wives and Scorch, tie the Doll down and then off to the FBO to pay our respects to the restroom. Not fifteen minutes after we arrived we were picked up by a representative of the Angel Fire Resort. About five minutes after that we were dropped off at the front door, where we had reservations for two rooms. How's that for service? The 'majors' alternative to traveling here by RV is to fly into Albuquerque and drive three hours in a rental car. Heck, our whole trip from Texas took three hours <g>. GoogleMaps says it's a 10hr 30min drive if you wanted to go that route. I do not.
Beautiful Doll on the ground at KAXX
We checked into our rooms, dropped the bags off, made a quick stop up to the snow for a picture and then scooted off to one of the restaurants within walking distance for some food.
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4 5 6
1- the lobby at the Angel Fire Resort Hotel
2 - Danny's room
3 - The illustrious Danny King
4 - I, putz
5 - Where it starts...at the base of the mountain at the Angel Fire Resort
6 - lunch
After lunch we headed back over to the rooms and got into the ski gear, then off to the ski rental shop. Keep in mind this is all about a hundred feet apart - no driving needed. The high altitude of the resort (8,500') did call for a little slower walk.
Remember, I haven't skied in almost a decade, so when we got to the top of the mountain the first thing I did was take a picture. Here it is...mountaintop picture #1.
The rest of the afternoon was spent trying not to die. Danny had been skiing about three weeks previous so he watched close as I got my snow legs back. We took the green run 'Headin Home' all the way back down to the bottom (trail map). Then we did that again.
This would be a good time to publicly thank Christy Germscheid, the Public Relations Manager of Angel Fire Resort for letting Danny and me borrow a couple of 'VIP Passes', allowing us to ski right up to the lift and bypass the line. It's the line the Ski Patrol, and as the sign said 'Platinum Members' used. We didn't wait more than ten seconds to get on a lift either day. We decided V.I.P. stood for Very Important Pilot.
End of day one...three hours in the RV and three hours on the slopes. Note the dusting of snow at top of mountain in picture one. Picture two is titled: 'Miller Time' (note VIP badge). I could not have looked goofier.
We skied four runs down the mountain Monday afternoon and my legs let me know it. We went to our rooms, crashed for a little while and caught up on TV, showered and picked a time to meet for dinner. There was a buffet style thing going on downstairs. Pizza, lasagna, salad, etc. for about $8. In bed by 10pm local. No problem sleeping...
Note in the three pictures above that there are NO clouds on day two. We woke to absolute CAVU and still wind. I was up a couple of hours before the lifts started so I walked around and took some pictures of the snow in the morning light. A quick breakfast and we were off to the lift line. Thanks to our handy Very Important Pilot badges we walked past the non-important pilots and got on the very first bench going up. We shared the chair with a recently retired NASA employee who was interested in aviation. "Well, why don't you build your own plane?" "Sure, we know some people you can call." The ride up was spend spreading the RV gospel. The skiing down was magic - not a person in front of us and the whole mountain practically to ourselves. I took the picture below on that first run.
This image is 768 pixels tall and over 1,200 pixels wide (you'll need to scroll right to see the whole image)
It struck me on those first runs Tuesday morning how similar skiing thirty feet behind someone feels to flying in trail doing steep turns. It's all energy management and turn radii and cut-off angles and converting smash into fun. Truth be told it felt perfectly normal following 'lead' down that mountain in the slot. God help me...it felt perfectly normal.
Thanks again to the VIPilot badges we were able to ski (8) times down the mountain Tuesday morning - easily a full day's skiing in just a few hours. Some guy on one of the trips up started smoking, which I did not appreciate. Fortunately they dropped a pole during the ride up - there is justice.
Around 11am local we took a break at the restaurant on the top of the mountain and had BBQ sandwiches and sodas. Item of note: same shirt as yesterday. Later on look for the photo as we are flying out of the area for the circular structure on top of a mountain - it's where I'm standing here.
After lunch and a coupla three more runs down the mountain and more pictures of ourselves to fulfill the required narcissistic quota. Below you can see Danny, me looking quite feminine, Danny in action! and one last look at a 'God View'. This is a nice place to ski and with the abundance of blue runs a nice fit for my skiing style.
After two half days of nonstop skiing and a weather forecast to kill for, there was no need to push our luck. At 1:30pm local we turned in the skies, checked out of the hotel and got a lift out to the airport.
Fuel was not the cheapest I've ever bought, but who's complaining. It was insanely convenient. The flight back had tailwinds and was completed in 2hrs 23min. That's 446n.m. in 2.4hrs. Cool, huh?
My advice: Fly your RV to Angel Fire, NM, stay at the Angel Fire Resort Hotel and try to have more fun than I had.
Thanks for reading,
Doug 'Rabbit Foot' Reeves
Danny 'Ski King' King
PS: Special thanks to Marthajane King for going to the Angel Fire Resort webcam and grabbing a screen print of Danny and me. Look at the first picture below - Danny is calling Marthajane to let her know we're in front of the webcam. I took this. The second picture is the image she grabbed off the web. I'm in the red jacket next to Danny - he's still on the phone. Ain't technology a hoot?